Atlantic Sea Cucumber Ltd. exports delicacies to Asian markets from Hacketts Cove, N.S.

Posted: July 27, 2020

Sea cucumber, a marine animal found on the ocean floor and named for its resemblance to the vegetable, might be the next big thing coming out of Nova Scotia — even though they’re still largely unknown to Nova Scotians.

“Sea cucumbers were often discarded as a bycatch by scallop fishermen, but are now a lucrative catch themselves thanks to exports to Asia, where they’re valued as a nutritious delicacy,” said Lincoln Ellsworth, Atlantic Sea Cucumber Ltd. spokesperson.

Atlantic Sea Cucumber Ltd., a local company that started operating in 2015, saw an opportunity to sell to Asian markets. In 2016 they began processing and exporting 1,100 pounds of sea cucumbers per day to Asia from their facility in Hacketts Cove, N.S., a rural community within Halifax Regional Municipality. The United States is also a surprising new market for the product.

Like most new companies, Atlantic Sea Cucumber has faced hurdles while scaling their business but Halifax Partnership was able to help.

“Halifax Partnership’s expertise in identifying funding sources was invaluable,” said Ellsworth. “It was so beneficial to work with a team that deals with export issues regularly. It gave us the confidence to put the effort into growing our business, knowing we’re taking the right steps to succeed.”

Minder Singh, a Senior Account Executive at Halifax Partnership, said the company had three main challenges: growing their exports; maintaining current levels of production because of the nature of the process; and barriers to expanding production to grow the business.

The company uses steam to cook its products, which preserves their nutritional value and chewy texture. The difficult nature of this process and the company’s rural location made labour retention an issue. The Halifax Partnership was able to connect Atlantic Sea Cucumber to partners and funding programs including the Applied Research Department at Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) and the Atlantic Immigration Pilot.

Thanks to these connections and a grant secured by NSCC, Atlantic Sea Cucumber will be undertaking a project that will see NSCC engineering students find innovative ways to automate and improve production processes at the plant.

“The project with NSCC will, hopefully, help automate part of the process to alleviate labour issues and increase production,” said Singh. “From what I was informed, this will probably be a first in the sea cucumber industry.”

Improvements could help equipment run more efficiently and reduce the waste being produced at the facility, said Ellsworth, adding that the company is also looking to introduce new products to the market.

“Halifax Partnership made the connection with NSCC, and it’s a win-win situation for us,” said Ellsworth. “It helps students in our community, and it’s a low-risk way to grow and improve our business, make our processing operations more efficient and cost-effective, and keep it local.”

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